Dark Souls 2 is a perfect swan song for the last generation of consoles.
Even after putting in over two hundred and fifty hours into this franchise, I still get intimidated by anything ending in “Souls”. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone the sequel to Dark Souls is a very challenging game. If you take anything away from this review, don’t shy away from Dark Souls 2 because it is a difficult game.
From Software has infused even more life into their latest action RPG, giving us an even larger world to explore and get lost in. Players are once again dropped into an open world and left to fend for themselves, with little direction and equipment. It’s unlike any other game, and is a breath of fresh air in this day and age when the audience is ushered down corridors by a guiding hand.
The challenge still remains, and Dark Souls 2 has been distilled into a better experience than the previous installments. Veterans will notice a much tighter game within the new expansive world, and if you were scared off by the previous titles; then new players rejoice because this is much more accessible and the best Souls game to date.
The strength of Dark Souls 2 lies in the exploration of both the world and the story. Although it takes place in the same world as Dark Souls, the story and setting are new and inspired here. Unlike the predecessors though, the tale lies in the people you speak with and not hidden behind the flavor text of items. This story feels more realized as NPCs are more than willing to tell you what’s on their mind and why they exist.
Once again you play as a hollow - a cursed being who has transcended death. Slowly your character degrades away from humanity, becoming closer to the undead as time passes. Early on it’s found you must traverse the world of Drangleic and track down the four great souls all while discovering why the kingdom has gone to hell. As you move forward, the story will naturally piece together the history of this land but doesn’t explicitly spell out what is happening. It is an
eerie way to tell a story, but gives the player the freedom to craft together their own story in their mind using the bits and pieces scattered throughout Dark Souls 2.
Drangleic is a beautifully crafted world, much larger than Lordran and with a variety of scenery to take in. Each area sets to tell a story, and even though they are not as interwoven as Lordran they all feel tied together in some larger plot. A major difference players will first notice is fast travel being is available from the beginning of the game and each bonfire acts as a teleport point. Think of Dark Souls 2 as a hybrid of Demon Souls and Dark Souls in the sense that you can be at any level you want, as long as you make it there first.
The Souls games have a reputation for being difficult, yet fair, and this is fully apparent in the combat. Dark Souls 2 carries this torch forward and supplies us with the tightest combat in the series. I won’t go into small details but there have been slight tweaks to the combat which make perfect sense. The style remains intense and punishes the impatient while rewarding players who execute well and think before acting. Some people may call this drastic, but what it does is make the rewards for good play all the more sweeter. There is nothing like finishing off a boss with a sliver of health left, lighting a bonfire, and then cashing in your souls for levels, new gear, or spells. You will not smile or frown more with any other game.
Even though I have paid my dues with this series, it doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes. I died a ton in Dark Souls 2, and trust me when I say you will do the same. From Software has added a monument that tracks public deaths. At the time of this review, the toll is well over twenty three million deaths worldwide. Instead of getting angry and frustrated, I used every death as a learning experience to figure out how I could perform better in the next run. Death is as important in this game as life, as it allows the player to figure out environment layouts, traps, enemy patterns, and boss strategies. If anything, dying will fuel your (bon)fire and give you the strength and knowledge to overcome the incessant obstacles the game throws your way.
Dark Souls 2 feels like it is always giving you something to look at, use, or bash an enemy with. It is tough to describe, but there is just more in this game. The character progression is faster and more lenient. There is an item which allows you to re-spec your character so if you decide you want to try a different build this is an option. Hexes have taken over the dark magic we saw make an appearance in the Dark Souls DLC, and give casters a third school of magic to add to their arsenal. Hybrid builds are more viable with the immense amount of armor, weapon, and spell combinations. Characters can equip four rings now, which opens up a plethora of ways to play a character.
It is important to note since this review is a week or so after the release date, it gives me the advantage of actually being able to comment on the online play of Dark Souls 2. I think a review without online play does a disservice to the game, as I feel the multiplayer component to the game is pivotal to the experience. Playing through Dark Souls 2 solo is not a good idea, nor is it fun. Playing Dark Souls 2 offline so you don’t get invaded is also a bad idea. Limiting yourself in this manner removes an essential part of the game - phantoms! Without phantoms Drangleic is a quiet place so get out there and start summoning/invading.
I’m going to focus on the co-op aspect of the multiplayer instead of the PVP side of things because it’s what we do here at Co-Optimus. Summoning works almost the same in the previous games with the normal rules applying: 1. You have to be human to summon an ally and 2. Human and Hollow players can be summoned using the White Summon Stone. Dark Souls 2 also adds a Small White Summoning Stone which allows you to enter the world as a shade, and is based on time rather than finishing the area boss. Another change to encourage co-op play and less boss-camping is the way you become human. Instead of just killing the boss and changing from Hollow to Human, your transformation is now based on the amount of time you spend in another world as a phantom. This is a small change, but it is nice to see the emphasis on co-op play.
There are covenants to help funnel people into jolly co-operation (Praise the Sun), and even covenants helping those who are being invaded by evil phantoms. During my time in Drangleic there was never a lack of people to summon, with the obvious hot spots being around a bonfire or right before a boss door. I was always running with an ally or two, and when I didn’t have a full party there was a surprising amount of NPC phantoms I could summon to my aid. If you’re not playing Dark Souls 2 with others, you’re not doing it right. Then comes the proverbial question everyone had in ‘how do I play with my friends?’ I’ll let you know I think you should play with strangers, but for those of you needing someone you know on the other end there is a solution. Dark Souls 2 has a ring which allows you to summon your friends. I tested this flawlessly over the past week and I could always summon my partner in crime, Cubninja. It’s one of the first items you can get and I’ll be putting out a guide on how to do it exactly. So there, you can play with friends now.
I could continue on and spout off all the cool things I have found so far, but I would rather people explore and discover things for themselves. The world is huge, and each new area gives countless branching paths to wander down. If you ever feel stuck, you can hit a bonfire and transport to a different area - making the whole experience less intimidating. I never felt like I had hit a wall, as there was always something new to find or an area to check out. The natural progression of the world will prepare you for (almost) anything.
Dark Souls 2 is not simply more of the same. It is a totally new living, breathing world that is yours to conquer. Make sure you bring a couple friends along and you’ll be fine. If you have been too intimidated to check out the series, I would encourage you to take the plunge with this game. It brings out a cacophony of emotions providing a journey like nothing else. It is stressful and frustrating at times, but the reward for players is insurmountable.
Now go die.